Duke outlasts Baylor, 78-71, for first Final Four since ’04

Talk about a pressure-packed game. Neither team led by more than seven points until the 1:36 mark when Lance Thomas followed up a Kyle Singler missed with a dunk and a foul to increase Duke’s lead from five to eight. The follow-up punctuated what was the difference in the game — Duke’s ability to hit the offensive glass. Thomas had eight of the Blue Devils’ 22 offensive rebounds. (Baylor had 16, so the disparity doesn’t seem so big, but five came in the final minute when the Bears were in full catch-up mode.)

Nolan Smith (29 points) and Jon Scheyer (20 points) carried Duke offensively on a night when Singler simply couldn’t buy a bucket. He went 0-10 from the field and turned the ball over four times. In fact, Scheyer scored all of his points from the three-point line (5-10) and the free throw line (5-5). Smith and Scheyer hit back-to-back threes down the stretch to give the Blue Devils a six-point lead with 2:37 to play. (I’m really looking forward to seeing what Smith can do as a full-time point guard next season.)

Duke shot 48% from 3PT, but just 11-38 (29%) from 2PT. This was a result of Baylor’s zone forcing Duke to take open yet uncomfortable shots from inside the arc. Duke was successful offensively when they hit a post player with a pass at the free throw line and that player (usually Mason Plumlee or Brian Zoubek) found the open three-point shooter.

LaceDarius Dunn led the Bears with 22 points, but had just six in the second half before a made three with 0:10 to play. This was something of a coming out party for Ekpe Udoh, who posted 18 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five blocks. Baylor hasn’t played on national television all that much so Udoh made the most of the opportunity.

In West Virginia, Duke will face a very similar team at the Final Four. The Mountaineers also like to play at a slow pace and have a pretty good 1-3-1 zone that will limit Duke’s playbook. One thing that this Duke team has that the last few teams have lacked is depth on the front line. In Zoubek, Thomas, and the Plumlee brothers, Duke has plenty of beef up front to battle down low. It should be a great game.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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